This month, the Max Wigram Gallery will present new works from portrait artist Richard Wathen. The pieces will explore Wathen's combined use of historic reference and contemporary practice, focusing on his intriguing and unsettling series of self portraits. The paintings confront the inevitability of time, the disturbance of distorted images and the visible effects of age and experience. Drawing on autobiographical events and memory, Wathen presents his audience with an exhibition dealing with uncomfortable truths and the ambiguities of life. Dazed went to find out more…
Dazed Digital: What inspires you in your work?
Richard Wathen: Memories often work as a starting point for ideas. I am inspired by other art, music, film, walking and people.
DD: You seem to reference historical art work in your paintings – are there any particular artists you admire, or who influences you?
Richard Wathen: Otto Dix, Philip Guston, Albrecht Durer, Casper David Friedrich, Francis Bacon, Lucas Cranach, Christian Schad, Picasso, Gustave Courbet, Ferdinand Hodler, Van Gogh, Franz Xavier Messerschmidt, Hans Memling, Vermeer, Manet, Velasquez.
DD: Many of your portraits feature the individual holding a rabbit. Does this animal hold any significance for you?
Richard Wathen: I have had rabbits as pets and I find the lack of any real bond between pet and owner very interesting. The relationship is unsure and holds issues of engagement with each other. In turn, the viewer of the piece is what these paintings are about. It is also a great excuse to paint the fur, which is beautiful.
DD: You have stated that you consider your portraits as being self-portraits. Could you tell us a little about this auto-biographical element in your work?
Richard Wathen: The paintings do not depict people I have ever met or even exist but are constructed from various images, found photos, other paintings etc. I have always thought about the self portrait in psychological terms but have occasionally started a painting using a physical likeness.
DD: How did the idea for this exhibition come about?
Richard Wathen: I had been thinking about self doubt and the whole activity of making art as subject. Some of the images in the show portray figures with paint covered clothes or boxes. The figures in my paintings are usually alone and often feel dislocated from any real sense of location or time, so I suppose the subject of making paintings has always been my subject.
DD: The titles of your new work seem intriguing – what is the story behind Man Whose Head Expanded & Man Whose Head Diminished? What is the relationship between the two?
Richard Wathen: The Man Whose Head Expanded is a song by The Fall and The Man Whose Head Diminished is a line from that song. It was playing one day in the studio and for some reason hearing it on that occasion I immediately decided I would make a pair of portraits with the two titles. The relationship between the two images play on the idea of one being full of self belief and the other not. I like the simplicity of the idea.
DD: The paintings seem almost eerie and unsettling with the relationship between time, age and gender. Was this intentional? What would you want your audience to feel when they view the exhibition?
Richard Wathen: Yes, it is intentional. This question reminded me of something I read a long time ago. I remember it was a work of fiction intertwined with talking about some paintings that were so amazing that if you looked at them you would collapse and die. When I first read that i thought it was interesting the idea of art having that kind of effect. I would like the audience to feel a mild toothache. Something that nags away at you.
DD: What else are you working on at the moment?
Richard Wathen: I have been making a lot of watercolours. I love being able to make things quickly alongside the more labour intensive paintings.